Here’s how your urine could power the future

18 Mar 2016

British scientists have developed a new, cheap, powerful way to turn your urine into electricity, paving the way for a wee step forward in the energy stakes.

The entirely new type of fuel cell, developed by scientists from Bath and Bristol, can convert urine into electricity, offering improvements in price, size and power in comparison to traditional variants.

Citing humanity’s over-reliance on fossil fuels as a reason to seek out urinary alternatives, Mirella Di Lorenzo and her colleagues describe the discovery as one which offers “real potential to produce renewable bioenergy”.

Noting how the world produces “high volumes of urine”, Lorenzo is confident this discovery can harness the power potential, revolutionising electricity.

What is it all about?

Microbial fuel cells turn organic matter into power, however there are other, often better, ways like anaerobic digestion, fermentation and gasification.

The benefit of microbial cells is their ability to work at room temperature, yet traditional limitations like cost of parts and lack of power output often work against them.

But, made of carbon cloth and titanium wire, and using a solution of glucose and ovalbumin, these cells are cheap to make and, due to some clever engineering (stacking cells on top of each other, lengthening electrodes) they have the potential to pack a bit of a punch.

Urine Cell

The use of biomass-derived oxygen reduction reaction catalysts at the cathode increased the power density generated up to 1.95 W m−3.

“Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas,” said Jon Chouler, lead author of the study from the University of Bath.

Last December, research into urine-covered socks, from some of the same researchers in Bristol, hinted at this waste-wonder. And there has been plenty of investigation into increasing urine’s importance on our electronic age.

This latest cheaper, smaller and more powerful fuel cell, so, is the cherry on the urinal cake, so to speak. The team are even working on batteries now…

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic